It’s Not Just “Brushing Teeth”

When choosing a vet to perform “dental” on your pet make sure you are comparing procedures and levels of care, not solely looking at a dollar comparison.  A comprehensive oral health exam is more than just cleaning teeth. Burke Animal Clinic strives to provide a high level of care and safety for your pet.

Unlike human dental cleaning, proper animal oral assessment and dental care must be done under anesthesia. The process starts with a physical exam by a veterinarian.  Pre-anesthetic bloodwork, a separate fee, is the next step. The doctor determines, based on the physical exam and your pet’s general health status, which lab profiles to run.  If the pet is under five years of age we still recommend bloodwork, but don’t require it.  The bloodwork may alert us to underlying problems that may not be clinically evident yet.  The bloodwork results and physical exam permit the vet to make an anesthesia plan calculated specifically for your pet’s needs.  Sometimes the procedure is even canceled pending other diagnostics.

Learn more about the anesthetic procedure and why bloodwork is important.

Here, Zorro has been sedated so that technician Eva can insert his catheter. She will use this to administer fluids and medications. Then a tube will be placed in his trachea so that the anesthetic gas can be administered.  Jose holds Zorro securely and safely. Jose wraps Zorro in a special patient warming device made especially for pets to keep his body temperature up while he’s under anesthesia.  It’s called a Hot Dog! 

Dental cleanings stir up a lot of oral bacteria.  Most pets have gingivitis, an inflammation of their gums, that would permit an open pathway for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream.  A prophylactic antibiotic injection is given at this time.  Some pets will need to start antibiotics a week before a dental procedure, particularly if they have advanced oral disease or other health concerns such as heart valve problems.

The oral health assessment should include full-mouth intra-oral radiographs (X-rays) to provide a look at what is going on below the gum line. Two-thirds of the tooth structure lies unseen below the gumline. The cleaning, polishing, and charting of problems is performed by a licensed technician under the supervision of the veterinarian.  The plaque and tartar are removed from the surface of the tooth both above and below the gum line using a combination of hand scaling and ultrasonic scaling.  Scaling cleans the teeth of the calculus and tartar but leaves behind microscopic scratches that must be removed by polishing to slow the re-deposit of plaque post dental.

Technician Eva takes x-rays that the doctor will review during his oral examination.  For a dog, 22 pictures will be taken.  Dogs have 42 teeth, cats have 30.  Once the x-rays are done, Eva will begin scaling and polishing the teeth.  She’ll let the doctor know if she finds anything out of the ordinary.

Once the cleaning and charting are performed by the Licensed Vet Technician (LVT), the veterinarian performs a complete oral exam checking for any abnormalities, pockets or masses.  This is a more thorough exam than can be accomplished when your pet is awake.  Any teeth needing extraction, which are charged independently, are nerve blocked by the vet or LVT using injections of local anesthetic.  These injections block the nerves locally reducing the pain stimulus received and make for a more comfortable surgery and recovery for your pet.  A systemic injection for pain control is also given.  Like extractions, pain management is an additional fee assessed when needed. The veterinarian performs any surgical extractions; the LVT may remove non-surgical loose incisors.  Teeth are then charted and the mouth is rinsed with a chlorhexidine solution to reduce the bacterial load for the patient.

After doing the oral examination, the doctor may find extractions are needed.  This requires special instruments and skill.  Additional pain medication will be used. This is performed by the doctor.

Postoperative cold laser helps reduce inflammation and promote healing when extractions are performed

Other services the veterinarian may choose for the patient that are not included in the dental fee:

  • The application of fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel of pets showing enamel problems
  • Filling pockets around teeth with antibiotic products that provide a high level of antibiotic at the source of the problem while permitting lower systemic doses of antibiotic
  • Anti-inflammatories, pain medications and antibiotic to go home
  • A post-operative laser treatment after extractions or oral surgery

After the procedure, your pet’s recovery is monitored by the staff.  Dogs are walked outside in the middle of the day.   Later in the day, a licensed veterinary technician, or for more complicated cases, a veterinarian, will meet with you in a scheduled discharge appointment to go over any findings from the procedure.  At this time, recommended follow-up care will also be discussed.

Technician Eva monitors Zorro’s recovery closely until she is sure he is awake from his anesthesia and his vital signs are normal.  He will continue to be sleepy from the anesthesia and pain medications.

As you can see, a dental cleaning isn’t just “Brushing your dog’s teeth.”  From arrival to departure your pet is monitored by a well trained, professional staff and precision instrumentation.  We want to make your pet’s anesthesia procedure is as smooth and stable as possible.

Preparing for a Dental

Since this is an anesthetic procedure, pets should not eat after 10:00 p.m. the night before or have any breakfast the morning of the procedure.  Water may be left out overnight but should be picked up as soon as you wake up.  We want an empty tummy prior to any anesthetic procedure. Hospital admission time is between 7:15 and 7:45 a.m. the morning of the procedure.  Reading and filling out our Procedure Consent Form and Financial Agreement may speed up the check-in process.  But, please allow 10-15 minutes to check-in so that our staff can make sure the proper paperwork is in order and can answer any questions you may have.

Of course, proper dental care is always important.  Keep your pet smiling and happy by practicing good dental health for your pet!

Every February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

We promote proper dental care all year long, but during National Pet Dental Health Month we offer discounts on dental cleanings to highlight the importance of good oral care for your pets.

Find out what the American Veterinary Medical Association is doing to honor National Pet Dental Health Month!